Rajiv Aggarwal

From doctor to private banker: “It’s never too late to reskill yourself”

Rajiv comes from a long line of doctors. So, predictably, he got his undergraduate degree and started his career as a medical doctor in his hometown, four hours from Delhi. Within a year he was working in taxation for the Indian Revenue Service in Mumbai, where he stayed for 14 years. A law degree and an MBA later, Rajiv joined Pictet in London after a chance encounter with Jacques de Saussure. Today he is a private banker in Singapore looking after non-resident Indian clients. This is his story.

“In India in the 80s, the civil service had all the power. Between a doctor and a bureaucrat, the bureaucrat had more respect. I was attracted to that.” While still at medical school, Rajiv began studying for the highly competitive Civil Services Exam, choosing Zoology and Anthropology as his two mandatory subjects of focus. “They were the closest thing to my medical studies!” He competed with 200’000 applicants that year and qualified, earning one of just 100 open jobs.

His first posting was in Mumbai for the Indian Revenue Service, considered the premier central civil service of India. Which is where he stayed throughout his twenties and well into his thirties, delving ever deeper into the legal nuances of income tax, scrutinising tax returns for signs of irregular, undeclared activity. Once his suspicions aroused, he would investigate further. The puzzle would culminate in a visit to the alleged offender with a ‘search and seizure’ warrant. “I enjoyed it. The job was a mix of detective, police and judge.” It was the layers of legal subtleties in taxation that led Rajiv to pursue a law degree part-time for seven years, despite having no intention of ever practicing law.

Rajiv wrote and published a book on Fixed Coupon Notes.

In 2004, Rajiv was posted out of the Revenue Service to a government-run textile company as CEO. Civil servants are expected to gain first-hand business management experience. Overnight, Rajiv was responsible for 500 staff, in 35 offices across the country. “It was a big change. What I learned, was that I didn’t know the first thing in basic management principles.” What he needed was an MBA. So he applied to three programs.

“INSEAD said I was over-qualified. Stanford thought I was under-qualified. London Business School had the right course for me; the Sloan Fellowship MBA, the world’s first mid-career and senior career master’s degree.” Rajiv took a sabbatical from the civil service, left India and at 41, went back to school.

A few weeks into his course, a guest speaker was due to appear, Jacques de Saussure, a Partner at a then little known Swiss private bank called Pictet & Cie. Rajiv plucked up the courage and asked his tutor for an introduction. “In my previous jobs in taxation, the sight of ’Swiss banking’ usually set the alarm bells ringing! I was excited to meet a real Swiss Banker!”

The exchange was a pleasant one, ending with a follow-up introduction to the Head of the Private Client Office in London. The wealth management team were looking to expand the coverage for non-resident Indian clients and Rajiv was a perfect fit. So in November 2008, Rajiv left his lifetime contract with the civil service to join Pictet Wealth Management in London. Two days before he was due to leave India, terrorists attacked a hotel next door to Rajiv’s office in Mumbai delaying his departure. And when he finally made it to London, he woke up to crowds protesting outside the UBS building in the City. The 2008 financial crisis was gaining momentum.

Rajiv stayed in London for 3 years before moving to Dubai to be closer to his clients. When the Dubai office closed in 2013 just 18 months later, he had a choice to return to London or relocate to Singapore. “I chose Singapore; I’d only been there twice before but I found it very organised, very professional.” And he has remained there ever since, travelling to Dubai every 2-3 months to visit his clients.

Except in 2020 when Rajiv could not leave the country for 21 months due to Covid 19 travel restrictions. He found some spare time. “Singapore is quite small when you can’t leave!” So he wrote and published a book on Fixed Coupon Notes. “It’s quite a popular topic, I often educate my clients about it. I’d already started the basic research, but confinement gave me the chance to write and finish it. It was very satisfying.” You can buy Fixed Coupon Note: High Returns and Low Risk on Amazon. “I think I am my own best customer!”

When asked if there is a common thread between being a taxman and a private banker, Rajiv says “I ask people to give me their money in both jobs. The difference is that in my earlier job the money went towards building a nation, now there is potential to return it.”
Reflecting on the twists and turns in his career path, Rajiv takes pride in his journey. “It’s a bit muddled, like life. But I’d do the same again. I was pretty good at whatever I did[1]. You can change career at any time. It takes a little investment but it’s never too late to reskill yourself.”

Rajiv is a private banker for the South Asian market, Pictet Wealth Management based in Singapore. He sits next to Domenico, who also has a remarkable story.

*Rajiv earned a gold medal  in his medical undergraduate degree and was awarded best officer while completing his training for the Indian Revenue Service.
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